Rebecca was born in Cambridge in 1964 and grew up in Brighton. She won a scholarship to Brighton and Hove High School for Girls and then studied English and Art History at York University, where she later also completed an MA and PhD.
Rebecca writes both fiction and literary non-fiction. She is the author of several books on the history of science, including a biography of Charles Darwin called Darwin and the Barnacle (Faber 2003) and a history of Darwin’s predecessors, Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists (Bloomsbury, 2013). She now works for half the year as a Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich and the other half as a freelance writer and broadcaster.
Rebecca’s first novel, Ghostwalk, a historical thriller about Isaac Newton and alchemy, was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in the UK in 2007, and was the launch novel of the new fiction list of Spiegel and Grau in the US (Random House). It has been translated into 12 different languages including Russian, Hebrew, Serbian and Mandarin. It was shortlisted for the Jelf First Novel Award, the Society of Authors First Novel Award and long listed for the Impac Dublin Literary Award.
Her second novel, The Coral Thief, a historical novel and a coming of age story in which a young man falls amongst a group of infidel thieves and philosophers in Paris in 1815, just after the fall of Napoleon at Waterloo, was published in the UK in December 2009 and in the US in January 2010. It was read by the actor Daniel Stevens on BBC’s Book at Bedtime in January 2010. It is also translated into several languages.
Darwin’s Ghosts: In Search of the First Evolutionists tells the 2,200-year-long history of evolution before Darwin, through the lives of the heretics and freethinkers who were prepared to risk their freedom by challenging religious orthodoxies about the origin of species. It was published by Bloomsbury in the UK and Spiegel and Grau in the US in May 2012 and shortlisted for the Duff Cooper Prize for Non-Fiction.